There is not a writer on the planet that doesn’t put themselves in their writing. Period. It is impossible to live outside of your time, it is impossible to write outside of your own experiences. Writers often try (and succeed) at positing multiple different perspectives than their own in their stories (in any writing really, including non-fiction of every type). However, the million little things in themselves that go unquestioned — things they don’t see — spill all over the page, too. I see this most clearly when I study literature from other eras. Because some of our assumptions have changed, we can clearly see their assumptions.
A simple example: in the European Middle Ages, the Church was a part of life. No one believed it could *not* be a part of life (even if they were closeted atheists). Now, we can see a world where the Church is NOT an essential part of day to day life. (For example, there are no consistent bells chiming out he hour. We don’t live by a liturgical clock, though the liturgical calendar is still somewhat present.) Writers from the European Middle Ages, write with the Church simply there — it is a fabric of the world. So much so, that it doesn’t merit comment some of the time. The works that are explicitly religious also treat the religiosity of culture as a given. There are subtleties to explore, of course, and nuance, but the Church was so important as to, in a way, be invisible. (Hence the “Reformation” not the “Elimination,” for example).
There are lots of other examples to poke at, too. So I do wonder, what will future generations see our assumptions to be? What things that we’re not seeing now will be laid bare in the future? No matter how “ahead of their time” authors may seem, or how clear minded, they cannot escape their own time and culture.
The people who complain about the personal narratives in writing, how everything is about the writer, I think believe there is a way to escape that. There isn’t. And their ideas of distance and unbiased as “good” writing reflect the culture that values those things as an inherent good.
I also dislike the “I write because if I don’t the words will explode out of me!” Mostly because I have never, in my life, felt that way, and it feels incredibly performative to me. Oh, I’ve had secrets or news or something that I felt would kill me if I couldn’t express, but not the simple act of writing itself.
I write because I enjoy writing. I’d be sad if I had to stop — possibly miserable. But even if I wasn’t writing, I’d still be making up stories in my own head. Because I enjoy it.
I know I write myself into my stories in ways I can’t see at the time, but can see later (ugh! sometimes it’s painfully obvious in retrospect), and in ways that I can’t and won’t ever see at all.
I understand why people mystify writing — like I think this particular essay does (though I don’t disagree with most of the stuff said). People mystify it and other arts because process isn’t visible. If you do a scientific experiment, the process is deliberately visible. If you want to know how an athlete succeeds, you look at her regimen. But writing happens so much in the brain, and a lot of writers have a very hard time communicating what they’re doing. Advice on writing always is inevitably around the periphery of creation: “read a lot.” “write every day.” “journal” “don’t journal.” “don’t edit as you write.” “edit when you need to.” “plan everything.” “don’t plan anything.” Or advice is incredibly specific: “kill adverbs.” “no passive voice.” “no present tense.” “follow the three-act, five act, 15 beat, Campbell’s hero structure.” “oh my god, don’t be trapped by those structures!” Who knows?
Writers are cowards. Writers are brave. Writers are all the same. Writers are totally different. Saying “writers are…” is like saying “people are…” A statement destined to be both true and false, in equal measure, at the same time.
Writers are people, whatever that means.